The WIEP Show Goes Digital!! (by Ralph J. Baron)
That was the headline back in 2005 when the venerable Delaware Photographic Society moved into the modern digital era of displaying the results of the Projected Image judging at its annual WIEP show.
Here's the story of how Gus Costis and I made the precarious move from slides on a Carousel projector to images on a computer and digital projector.
At the time, I wasn't even a formal member of the DPS club. I'd been active with the South Jersey Camera Club where I dabbled in some new photo display technology just evolving at the time. It involved projecting slides digitally and I had invested the princely sum of $700 in a novel Adobe Premiere slide show software. And a new digital projector to go with it.
At some point, I went to a WIEP exhibition and it struck me that the DPS was ripe for some innovation. I recalled witnessing DPS club member, Gus Costis, showing his specialty of a simultaneous use of two slide projectors matched with a fully synchronized audio tape output that controlled the sequence of images and audio. I latched onto the idea of utilizing Gus' expertise with the new digital technique.
Introducing myself to Gus (for the beginning of a long, pleasant and fruitful photo-centric relationship), he was at first skeptical until I showed him the primitive results of mini slide shows that I had made. He lit up with enthusiasm for the idea. The DPS could use this new approach as successfully as it had been doing with other technical advances throughout its decades-old history.
But now came the hard part, - convincing the Club's Poobahs to plunge into this attractive, but unproven approach, and replace a settled feature that had been reliably used for many years. Gus and the officers would have to put everything on the line.
Two club leaders (Karl Leck and Bob Coffey), made the critical 'go' decision, perceptively recognizing the possibilities. It was their job to convince the rest of the Club, including the skeptics, that it was the right way to go. Not an easy task. Gus was their only point of trust, who in turn vouched for me, a non member at that!
Gus would direct the show, gather the images and edit them into PSA groups,
and then pass them on to me . On my end, I'd do the technical aspect of putting the show in digital format using some then little known software.
The plan was to emulate the technique that Gus used for his dual projector setup. In it, he recorded a controlled timing tape. If he changed just one picture or sound by a even a second, he'd have to redo the whole tape from the beginning to the end in real time. That was typically thirty plus minutes. It consumed HOURS of meticulous repeated adjustments. Gus was a patient master!
What made the proposal more convincing for me was the release of a newly revised version of Pro Show Gold, - and just for $45. It rendered changes in mere seconds, not the forty five minutes that was typically required in the Adobe software. A HUGE breakthrough!! It was a no brainer to trash the cumbersome Adobe software. Seven hundred bucks down the tubes.
Gus explained the nuances of timing and I thought that I understood what had to be done. That was my first big error! I eventually discovered that I didn't fully understand his instructions, - to great peril. Error #1!
Another problem - - converting the participants' slides into digital format. That's when we enlisted Bob Coffey to form a “Scanners” group by corraling nine members who owned scanners. Bob got the slides scanned although not uniformly; each scanner had his own technique. It became evident in the final product. No time for do overs
Gus supplied copies of his musical collection, mostly classical, as well as the grouped photos, along with descriptions that I converted into title slides. He described the exact musical pieces to accompany each grouping. I had to make the images fit the music, and vice versa.
Meanwhile, I worried that Karl and Bob might be having nervous nightmares about impending disaster. There was no backup to our project. Failure meant no WIEP slide show. It was a “do or die” effort. And, there were the skeptics.
A week or so before the due date, Gus and his wife Patsy traveled sixty miles to my home in New Jersey for a preview run on my substantial desktop. After the viewing, both of their faces turned pale. There was an ominous silence and then Gus slowly and deliberately informed me that I hadn't fully understood his initial instructions. The synchronization was ALL WRONG!! I had to redo everything from scratch. The WIEP exhibition was just over a week away.
I frantically pulled an “all nghter” slogging through to 4:00AM. I don't know what Gus and Patsy thought on their drive home that evening, but it wouldn't have been surprising if they fleetingly contemplated one way tickets to Tahiti.
Anyway, it was re-done in its entirety. They came back for another run. Phew!! Good to go. We decided that we would use my digital projector and Bob Coffey would supply the club laptop for the WIEP showing. Error #2! No test run of the final hardware /software configuration.
WIEP Sunday arrives. The audience trickled in. Some members who were aware of our novel effort were skeptical, and showed it. Gus and I were nervous as I set up the projector. All I needed was the club laptop that Bob Coffey was bringing.
Just a few minutes before the scheduled start time, Bob finally strolls in smiling broadly, but .......... he's EMPTY HANDED! No evidence of the computer!
B..B..BOB!!! WHERE'S THE LAPTOP?
With a surprised look instantly replacing his smile, Bob quickly makes a dash for the exit. Ralph and Gus head for cover.
An excruciating eternity later, Bob reappears with the laptop. I hook it up. Lights, camera, action!!!
Gus and I stand very nervously at the back of the auditorium.
IT WORKS FLAWLESSLY!! Not a skip or a blip for the full forty five minutes. Everybody was amazed!! Including the skeptics! At that very moment, Kodak Carousels and Kodachrome slides instantly vanished from the DPS' future.
Our learning process continued after the very successful WIEP showings when we stumbled badly while the show made the rounds to several outside audiences. The projection failed multiple times and the showings, embarassingly, had to be cancelled. Miraculously, none of those catastrophic failures showed up during any of the actual WIEP presentations.We were on VERY THIN ice, - just an errant electronic binary bit away from an unmitigated disaster and we didn't know it! An indirect result of my aforementioned Error #2.
In belated hindsight, I figured that the digital format used (for the technically inclined, an 'exe' format) was too large for the small memory in the Club's laptop. Why it didn't fail during the absolutely critical WIEP showings vs ignomiously doing so during the subsequent performances, is still an unsolved mystery. Luck was with us at the WIEP!
My 'inadequate memory' theory proved correct the following year when I was the projectionist using my own larger laptop. No problems whatsoever! Nowadays, those who prepare a show use smaller, but less fine grained file formats such as 'mp4', which was unavailable in the early software editions. Unfortunately, this lesson was lost during a more recent WIEP show when the same programming error was made with similarly disastrous results.
The Costis methodology of image/audio timing, disappointingly, has not been used in any of the intervening years since the original production in 2005. To fully synchronize the music and images, and have the crescendos and diminuendos match and support the flow of images, is an EXTREMELY TEDIOUS and TIME CONSUMING TASK. I believe that it is an effort that pays off handsomely and is a powerful artistic enhancement that augments the visual experience.
Gus wouldn't approve doing otherwise.
There are a number of software packages available that can duplicate the workings of the original Pro Show Gold package that I used. I hope that this would be a challenge to future WIEP show artists. Perhaps the DPS would provide financial support to acquire and test alternatives.
To view the full forty five minutes of the video and audio, follow the link below to view the show. Best viewed in Full Screen with a black background.
Ralph J. Baron
PO Box 4292
Greenville, DE 19807-9998
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